“You’re right,” Sully said, throwing up his hands. “I’ll buy it. We’ll go to Luka’s place. But we’ve gotta watch our asses. If it is Henriksen, he’s likely to have people watching the place.”
“We have to risk it,” Drake said. “And if they come after us, maybe we can grab one of them and confirm what we’re all thinking about Phoenix Innovations.”
In agreement, they walked in silence for more than a block before Sully flagged down a taxi, preparing themselves for whatever trouble awaited them at Luka Hzujak’s apartment.
By the time they got there, the whole building was in flames.
Before someone had decapitated and mutilated him and put most of his pieces in an old steamer trunk that smelled of low tide and mothballs, Professor Luka Hzujak had lived in a four-story brick building on 12th Street, just west of Abingdon Square Park, in the West Village. Slender trees grew from slots in the narrow sidewalk. With the stone lintels above the windows, the dormers on top, and the small smokestacks on the roof, the building might have looked like something out of Oliver Twist if not for the fact that it was on fire.
Drake spotted the smoke out the window of the taxi from several blocks away. A few seconds later, Sully frowned, sniffing the air. The smell of a fire that large never presaged anything positive.
“Pull over here,” Drake said.
The cabbie obliged, and Sully and Jada climbed out while Drake paid the man, including a generous tip mostly because he didn’t have time to wait for his change. He slammed the door and shoved his hands in his pockets as he hurried along the sidewalk after Sully and Jada. None of them had said anything as yet, but he felt sure they all knew which building was on fire.
When they reached the corner of West 12th Street, there were no surprises awaiting them, but Jada looked like she had been punched in the gut. She hugged herself tightly and took a step back from the sight of her father’s burning apartment building.
Sirens wailed, and a police car pulled up at the other end of the street. The firemen were already at work, hoses twisting along the pavement and over the curb. An old woman sat on a gurney behind an ambulance, staring at the building in shock as an EMT put an oxygen mask over her face. Several other people—apparently residents—stood across from the building in various stages of undress, most of them at the very least shoeless, while a pair of police officers questioned them.
Drake wondered how long Luka had lived there and if there were remnants of his life stored anywhere else. Otherwise, Jada had lost not only her father but all of his papers and photographs, all of the mementos of his life. He watched her cover her mouth with shaking hands, and his heart broke for her. She looked like she wanted to scream or run or hit someone, but she didn’t know what to do next.
“This is all happening damn fast,” Drake whispered to Sully.
Sully narrowed his eyes and nodded in agreement, then went to Jada and slipped an arm around her.
“Listen, kid,” Sully rasped, “we’re not going to get anything useful here. We stick around and we’re just asking for trouble, especially if whoever did this is on the lookout for you.”
Jada spun on him, curtains of magenta hair flying across her face. “We know who did this!” she shouted. “And I’m not going to hide anymore.”
Thanks to streetlights and New York traffic, the taxi that had just left them off hadn’t gotten very far. As the cabbie accelerated across the intersection, bending to glance at the burning building and all the emergency vehicles, Jada rushed into the street and flagged him down.
“You don’t think—” Sully began.
“Phoenix Innovations,” Drake said.
Sully swore. “This is a really bad idea,” he said as he ran after Jada.
“Yeah,” Drake agreed. “But are you gonna stop her?”
Sully ignored the question, but they both knew the answer. With the kind of pain Jada was in, they didn’t blame her for wanting to confront the man she suspected was responsible for killing her father or the stepmother she thought had betrayed him. But that didn’t make it a good idea. Drake doubted they would have been able to talk her out of going to Tyr Henriksen’s office, which meant the best thing they could do was protect her.
“Fifty-ninth Street and Broadway,” Jada said, practically hurling herself into the backseat of the taxi.
“I just dropped you off,” the cabbie said, mystified.
“Yeah,” Sully growled. “Change of plans.”
Sully paused before getting into the cab and looked back at Drake.
“Whatever goes on, it’s gotta be as public as possible,” he said. “Make sure security cameras pick us up, that people see us going to Henriksen’s office. It goes against every rule we’ve ever had—”
“No, you’re right,” Drake said. “If we’re going in there, we have to make sure Jada gets noticed. No matter how much they want to silence her, they’re not going to kill her in the office if a hundred people saw her go in.”
Glass shattered behind them, and they turned to see black smoke and bright fire billowing out of the exploding upper-story windows. The building was going to be a total loss, and you didn’t get that hungry a fire without some kind of accelerant. The investigators would know right off it had been arson, but that didn’t matter if they couldn’t figure out the identity of the arsonist.
Sully climbed in beside Jada. Drake glanced at the baffled-looking cabbie, but the man seemed focused on the spectacle of the firefighters at work. Then an ambulance rolled up behind them and gave a blast of its siren, urging them out of the way, and the cabbie looked irritated and motioned for Drake to get in.
As Drake ducked his head to get into the backseat, the window of the open door exploded in a shower of glass shards.
“What the—” Sully began.
A bullet punched through the roof and lodged in the seat behind Jada’s head.
“Down!” Drake shouted as another shot plinked the outside of the cab.
With a loud roar, a black SUV sped past the ambulance and slid to a shuddering halt beside the taxi. Its glass was tinted, but the passenger window started to glide down, and Drake knew that one way or another they were dead. If the sniper on the roof across the street didn’t kill them—only that would explain the angle of the first shots—these bastards in the SUV would make their deaths look like a gangster drive-by.
“Drive!” he screamed to the cabbie.
The guy behind the wheel of the ambulance smartened up, putting the vehicle in reverse, and it sped backward in retreat. Down West 12th Street people had started to tear their attention from the fire, hearing the gunshots.
“Damn it, drive the car!” Drake shouted, banging the partition to get the terrified cabbie’s attention.
The man had ducked down, hiding behind the dashboard. Something—Drake’s command or his own sense of self-preservation—made him realize that if they just sat there, they were dead, and he sat up and threw the cab into gear.
A sniper’s bullet punched through the windshield and took him in the chest. He jerked against the seat and then started to slide sideways, his hands twitching on the wheel.
“Son of a bitch!” Sully snapped. “I need a gun, Nate!”
But they didn’t have any guns. Not yet. They were damn well going to get them, but for now, running was the only choice. Drake popped the rear passenger door, staying low as he yanked open the one in front. The cab had started to roll but hadn’t picked up any speed.
He spotted a gun jutting from the open window of the SUV as he threw himself into the front seat. With both hands, he grabbed the cabbie and hauled the man toward him, then started climbing over him.
Bullets punched the side of the cab, shattering front and back windows and plinking through the metal doors. One caught the driver in the thigh. Drake had time enough to think that what he was doing was insane, that it was suicide to put himself in the way of the bullets. But he knew that doing nothing would also be suicide.
He got his hands on the wheel, kept his head to the side, and was about to hit the gas when a loud, crunching impact filled the air. He risked looking up and saw that the ambulance driver had purposely rammed the back of the SUV.
“Crazy bastard!” Sully whooped appreciatively.
“Bought us a couple of seconds,” Drake said.
Jada cried out as another bullet punched a hole in the roof, a new attack from the sniper, letting daylight in.
Drake gritted his teeth. They had to get away from both attacks, the sniper and the SUV, and there was only one direction open to them that he knew would accomplish that. He slammed it into reverse, backed the taxi up thirty feet, then put it back in drive, cranked the steering wheel to the right, and skidded into a turn down West 12th Street.
“Are you nuts?” Sully shouted.
“You’re going to hit the fire truck!” Jada warned.
Knuckles white on the wheel, Drake drove straight for the closest fire truck. Firefighters shouted and tried to wave him off. Survivors of the burning building scurried out of the way. The two cops on the sidewalk pulled their guns, but not fast enough, as Drake shot the taxi through the gap between fire truck and ambulance and careened down the street toward the police cars waiting there.
Gunfire punched the air, echoing off the buildings, but he didn’t slow down.
“Jada, are they following?” Drake asked.
She spun in the backseat and looked out the rear window. “Yes!”
“Are you kidding?” Sully said. “Who the hell are these guys?”
“We’ll be out of range of the sniper as soon as we turn the corner,” Drake told them.
“What about these nutjobs in the SUV?” Sully barked.
Drake smiled. He gunned the taxi past the two police cars parked diagonally at the curb, grazing a parked Mercedes, tearing off the taxi’s sideview mirror, and then accelerated even more. At the intersection, he hit the brake, turned into the skid, and slung the taxi into a right turn, driving the wrong way up Washington Street. Car horns blared, and a white box truck swerved to avoid a head-on collision.
He glanced over his shoulder and saw one of the two police cars pulling out to block the road. Two officers on the street had their guns drawn and were rushing up to the SUV as it skidded to a halt.
“We’re clear!” Sully said.
“For how long?” Jada asked, leaning forward, looking at Drake in the mirror. “They’ll have cops crawling all over us in a minute.”
Drake hung a quick left on Jane Street, no longer heading into oncoming traffic. He glanced over his shoulder at Sully.
“What do you think? Chelsea Piers?” he asked.
“No choice,” Sully agreed.
“What’s at Chelsea Piers?” Jada said.
Drake smiled, glancing at her in the rearview mirror. “Same thing you generally find at piers. Boats.”
The High Line elevated park had started its life as a freight train track built above the city to keep the trains away from public streets. The elevated platform that ran through the Meatpacking District all the way to 34th Street had been converted to a long green oasis. Drake had never walked the park, but he had read an article about it in some in-flight magazine or other, describing it as a hidden gem of New York City. Someday he hoped to get a closer look at the High Line, but today he needed it only for cover.
He pulled the taxi to the curb on Little West 12th Street and let it roll into the shadows under the High Line. In the backseat, Jada was still shaking.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “What the hell are we going to do?”
Sully took her hand, forcing her to meet his eyes. “We’re gonna improvise, sweetheart. Don’t worry. If there’s one thing Nate and I know how to do, it’s improvise.”
Drake watched the rearview mirror for cars. The street was one way, so at least they had that going for them. He waited for a red Accord to buzz past them, hoping their shattered windows would earn no more than a quick glance. The Accord slowed and the driver gave him an odd look, but Drake glared at him and the guy accelerated, minding his own business. He might be on his cell phone to the cops in a second, but they had at least a couple of minutes.
He popped his door.
“Get out,” he said. “Let’s go.”
Sully opened the back door and climbed out, with Jada hurrying after him. As Drake stepped from the taxi, she looked at him and then bent to peer through the open driver’s door at the dead cabbie. His blood had started to pool on the seat.
“We can’t just leave him here,” Jada said.
“We sure as hell can’t take him with us,” Sully grumbled.
Drake glanced back at the dead man. “The police will take better care of him than we could. And if we stick around, they might end up burying us right next to him.”
He shut the cab door, then noticed Sully staring at him.
“What?” Drake asked.
Sully pointed at his chest. “There’s blood on your jacket.”
Drake stripped off the coat, but he couldn’t leave it in the cab. There was enough evidence of their presence already. If they were lucky, no one had gotten a good look at their faces and they would never be connected to the gunfire or the dead taxi driver, and so the police would never have a reason to test their DNA against any hair fibers found in the cab. He thought that probably would work out in their favor. His larger concern had to do with the museum. If Gretchen talked about them and helped the police make the connection between Dr. Cheney’s murder and the burning of Luka Hzujak’s apartment building, eventually he and Sully and Jada would get caught in the net.
They had to rely on Gretchen’s discretion, and Drake didn’t like that. Not that he didn’t trust strangers easily. He tended to go with his instincts; it was just that there had been times when his instincts had been dangerously wrong.